SHOES ARE THE STUFF OF DREAMS - BATA SHOE MUSEUM
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A bold statement is written on the wall of The Bata Shoe Museum's newest exhibit: “To wear dreams on one’s feet is to begin to give a reality to one’s dreams.” Curled and guilded letters don’t shout, but rather weave their way into your consciousness. Now the reader, barely aware of the power of these words, nods in awe and understanding at the display of bejeweled, sequined and tasseled masterpieces.
Roger Vivier, one of the 20th centuries most significant master shoemakers shared this sentiment and found a connection with women the world over. It is hard to find a woman who can’t confess some small measure of appreciation for sequins or sparkles or stunningly vibrant colours, all constructed to elongate and accentuate and tip your posture into that perfect combination of elegance and sensuality. It is quite easy, however, to find multitudes of women who will fervently confess to an all out obsession with footwear.
If you fall into either category, a visit to the largest museum in the world devoted entirely to shoes is a must! Sonja Bata, wife of Thomas Bata of the Bata Shoe Company commissioned a "small gem of a museum" in downtown Toronto, and in 1995 architect Raymond Moriyama brought the vision to life in the form of an opening shoe-box. This cultural treasure now displays hundreds of shoes from a collection of over 10,000 in four expertly curated collections. And over 110,000 visitors a year come for this beautifully orchestrated combination of culture, history and entertainment.
My personal favorite - Roger Vivier: Process to Perfection - provides a glimpse into Vivier’s process of shoe design. Shoes are paired with drawings and descriptions of the thought process that led to the masterpiece. Each sculpted heal and each squared or sharply angled toe reflects some personal principle of design - often some principle unique to Vivier, and often one that was embraced and copied by shoe designers and knock-offs the world over.
Vivier’s well-heeled brand of perfection is revealed in each stage of the process with a display of expertly crafted pullovers. These three dimensional models of a shoe that is still in the design phase consist of the shoe upper only - no heal, and no intricate beading or hand-work. The perfection of the work and their presentation on a wooden shoe form is misleading to the untrained eye. I mistook the model for the masterpiece - and reached a whole new level of appreciation for Vivier's work!
Next I stepped into Bata’s Beauty, Identity, Pride: Native North American Footwear exhibit but I left expectations at the door. Surely a life lived in harmony with the land did not allow for any level of extravagance? My experience however was a real eye-opener, and I’m happy to report that women the world over, including those who must fashion intricate design and beauty with their own hands really do love a good shoe. And, it turns out, so do plenty of men - a beautiful Chipewyan winter moccasin adorned with colourful flower embroidery belonged to the former Lieutenant-Governor Louis François Rodrigue Masson and belied his appreciation of a stunning piece of footwear.
Bata’s exhibit describes these ninety elaborately adorned pieces as artifacts that “reflect larger issues of regional and cultural identity", patterns of construction and symbolism. What I saw was soft melded leather, beads, embroidery, and tassels. Incredibly intricate work reflects pride in craftsmanship and the investment of many a long winter night spent by the fire, porcupine needle in hand.
Now don your hiking shoes as you step through 4500 years of history in All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages. This exhibit bombards your shoe fascination with every strange and stunning creation that you’ve ever heard of - and some you haven’t. I was reluctant to read the description for the most tortuous shoe I have ever seen. Three inch long barbed spikes protrude with apparent evil intent and suggest a barbaric past. Their description as a chestnut crushing device came with a sigh of relief on my part - I am not one for scary stories, and scary stories of shoes are just as unwelcome.
4500 years of fantastic footwear includes ballet slippers in pink sateen and an astronaut’s training boot from the Apollo Space Program. Pointed and variegated ‘sabatons’ from a suit of armour could not possibly have given a young knight in battle anything but the propensity to look good while tripping over an awkward and elongated toe.
The Bata Shoe Museum completes a much enjoyed day of shoe worship by providing some interesting tidbits which any shoe appreciating connoisseur ought to know. Here is a sample of my favourites:
- Approximately 25% of all the bones in the human body are found in the foot.
- Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” are the most expensive shoes ever purchased at $666,000.
- The boots worn by Neil Armstrong for his famous first walk on the moon are now floating in space - jettisoned due to fears of contamination.
Now take an afternoon to see history and opulence for yourself. Whether a connoisseur or a newbie to the shoe loving world, The Bata Shoe Museum is an education and a treat.
Find the Bata Shoe Museum on bustling Bloor St W in the city of Toronto or at: http://www.batashoemuseum.ca/